Rebels fight off Gadhafi in west Libya

Refugee crisis puts mounting burdens on Tunisia, Egypt

Indian workers attempt to get on a ship leaving for Alexandria, Egypt, from the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the flow of refugees into Egypt and Tunisia is putting "tremendous burdens" on the two countries. (Associated Press)Indian workers attempt to get on a ship leaving for Alexandria, Egypt, from the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the flow of refugees into Egypt and Tunisia is putting “tremendous burdens” on the two countries. (Associated Press)
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Rebel forces fended off Moammar Gadhafi’s troops in the western part of Libya on Tuesday, and thousands of people fleeing the violence massed at the North African nation’s borders prompting warnings from international aid groups of a humanitarian crisis.

In Washington, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said two amphibious assault ships will arrive shortly in the Mediterranean and 400 Marines are being sent to assist in evacuation and humanitarian operations if needed.

“We are looking at a lot of options and contingencies. No decisions have been made on any other actions,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told members of Congress that the Obama administration will look into allegations that Col. Gaddafi ordered the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

“We will follow up on that,” she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates listens as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen speaks Tuesday at the Pentagon about the Libya turmoil. (Associated Press)

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates listens as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman ... more >

Former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud al Jeleil, who has broken with Col. Gaddafi, was quoted on Feb. 23 as saying Col. Gaddafi personally ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people when the plane exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

Mrs. Clinton also said U.S. Agency for International Development is dispatching two humanitarian teams to help the refugees.

She said the flow of refugees into Tunisia and Egypt is imposing “tremendous burdens” on those two countries.

Meanwhile, the U.N. General Assembly suspended Libya from the U.N. Human Rights Council citing Col. Gadhafi’s crackdown on protesters.

As many as 15,000 people were waiting to cross into Tunisia. On Libya’s east, more than 77,000 people have crossed into Egypt since Feb. 19, according to a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency.

Most of those who have left are Egyptians and Tunisians. Very few sub-Saharan Africans have been allowed out of Libya, according to sources at the border.

Sybella Wilkes, a Geneva-based spokeswoman for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said self-appointed border guards are preventing black Africans primarily from leaving. These civilians are bearing the brunt of some Libyans’ anger toward pro-Gadhafi African mercenaries blamed for many of the assaults on civilians.

“We are hearing anguished calls from refugees who are saying they are too scared to go out. They are feeling hunted. They are feeling trapped,” Ms. Wilkes told The Washington Times in a phone interview. “This is a very dangerous time to be a black African in Libya.”

Ayman Gharaibeh, head of the UNHCR emergency response team at the Libya-Tunisia border, said he could see “acres of people waiting to cross the border.”

“Many have been waiting for three to four days in the freezing cold, with no shelter or food,” Mr. Gharaibeh said, adding, “Usually the first three days of the crisis are the worst. This seems to be getting worse by the day.”

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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